Communion Reflections for September 22, 2020
Entering the Rose Garden: Part Three
Whatever their ways,
they are all in love with you,
Each comes, by a path, to the Rose Garden
(This is the third Reflection based on the opening talk Anne Baring gave to Ubiquity University’s online course: “Madonna Rising” in August 2020. I am grateful to Anne Baring for making her lecture notes available to participants. Direct quotes are designated by quotation marks, or for longer sections, by the use of italics.)
The Feminine Face of the God-Head
In the mystical tradition of Judaism, the Shekinah or feminine face of the god-head is named as Cosmic Womb, Palace, Enclosure, Fountain, Apple Orchard and Mystical Garden of Eden. She is named as the architect of worlds, source or foundation of our world, also as the Radiance, Word or Glory of the unknowable ground or godhead. Text after text uses sexual imagery and the imagery of light to describe how the ray which emanates from the unknowable ground enters into the womb—the Great Sea of Light—of the Celestial Mother and how she brings forth the male and female creative energies which, as two branches of the Tree of Life, are symbolically King and Queen, Son and Daughter. A third branch of the Tree descends directly down the centre, unifying and connecting the energies on either side….
The Heart centre of these three branches or pillars…is called Tiphareth.
As “the indwelling and active Holy Spirit”, the Shekinah is both “divine guide and immanent presence”. She it is who frees us from beliefs that separate us from our source, restoring the world to “union with the divine ground.” By bringing into being all that is ensouled by the divine source, “she generates the manifest world we know”, remaining here until “the whole creation is enfolded once again into its source.”
Kabbalism sees “the divine Mother-Father image…expressed as the male and female of all species”.
Humanity, female and male, is therefore the expression of the duality-in-unity of the god-head. The Shekinah is forever united with her beloved Spouse in the divine ground or heart of being and it is their union in the god-head that holds life in a constant state of coming into being. Yet she is also present—here with us—in the material reality of our world. The sexual attraction between man and woman and the expression of true love between them is the enactment or reflection at this level of creation of the divine embrace at its heart that is enshrined in the cherished words of the Song of Songs: “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.”(6:3) Human sexual relationship, enacted with love, mutual respect and joy, is a sacred ritual that is believed to maintain the ecstatic union of the divine pair.
Dwelling as divine presence in all that is, the Shekinah assures that “nothing is outside spirit.”
In the radiance of that invisible cosmic Sea of Light, everything is connected to everything else as through a luminous circulatory system. Moreover, the Shekinah is deeply devoted to what she has brought into being, as a mother is devoted to the well-being of her child. All life on earth, all levels and degrees of consciousness, all forms of what we see and name as “matter” are the creation of the primal fountain of Light, and are therefore an expression of divinity.
The colours associated with the Shekinah are blue and gold. She is the ground of the human soul, its “light body”, its “outer garment, the physical body, and its animating spirit or consciousness.” The Shekinah is “the holy presence of the ‘glory of God’ within everyone.”
We, all of us, moving from unconsciousness and ignorance of this radiant ground to awareness of and relationship with it, live in her being and grow under her power of attraction until we are reunited with the source, discovering ourselves to be what in essence we always were but did not know ourselves to be—sons and daughters of God, living expressions of divine spirit.
Like Isis, widowed, mourning, searching for her beloved Osiris, the Shekinah wears a black robe. This signifies “the darkness of the mystery which hides the glory of her Light.” This imagery “was carried forward to the Black Madonna.”
The imagery of Kabbalism may also be discerned in fairy tales. The forgotten image of the Divine Feminine, the veiled Shekinah appears as the Fairy God-mother who “presides over her daughter’s transformation from soot-blackened drudge to royal bride”.
Helena Bonham Carter as fairy godmother in the film “Cinderella”
Might Cinderella represent, as Harold Bayley suggests in The Lost Language of Symbolism, “the human soul as it moves from ’rags to riches’ ?”
Cinderella’s three splendid dresses, which could be equated with the “robe of glory” of certain kabbalist and gnostic texts, represent the soul’s luminous sheaths or subtle bodies, as dazzling as the light of moon, sun and stars.
Just as the soot-blackened girl in the fairy tale puts on her three glorious dresses to reveal herself as she truly is, so does the human soul don these “robes of glory” as she moves from the darkness of ignorance into the revelation of her true nature and parentage.
Next week: the Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature and in the Gnostic Gospels
Communion Reflection for September 15, 2020
Entering the Rose Garden: Part Two
Whatever their ways,
they are all in love with you,
Each comes, by a path, to the Rose Garden
Anne Baring finds in the richness of Kabbalistic teachings and traditions, traces of the luminous period of the First Temple in Israel. Thanks to her generosity in making her lecture notes available to those who participated in Ubiquity University’s online program “Madonna Rises”, I have Anne Baring’s own words to rely on. Short quotes are in quotation marks, longer ones are shown in italics.
Last week, we reflected on The Tree of Life as an image of the soul of the cosmos. “Every aspect of creation, both visible and invisible, is interconnected and interwoven with every other aspect.” In the Tree of Life there exists “one cosmic symphony”.
"Tree of Life" artwork by Y. Andino
The Tree of Life is no hierarchical descent from invisible to visible. Rather it is “an image of worlds nesting within worlds,
dimensions within dimensions emanating…from within outwards…the tapestry of relationships which connect invisible spirit
with the visible fabric of this world…. At the innermost level is the unknowable source or god-head,
at the outermost the physical forms of matter.”
And who or where are we in this “one unified web of life: one energy, one spirit, one single cosmic entity” ?
Anne Baring responds: “According to this Tradition, we are, each one of us, that life, that energy, that spirit.”
There is something still more wonderful: an intermediary between “the unknowable source”
and “the physical forms of matter”:
The Shekinah is the image of the Divine Feminine or the Feminine Face of God as it was conceived
in this mystical tradition of Judaism. In the image and cosmology of the Shekinah, we encounter
the most complete description of Divine Wisdom and the Holy Spirit as the indissoluble relationship
between the two primary aspects of the god-head that have been lost or hidden for centuries.
The Shekinah- the feminine co-creator- is the Voice or Word of God, the Wisdom of God, the Glory of God,
the Compassion of God, the Active Presence of God: intermediary between the mystery
of the unknowable source or ground and this world of its ultimate manifestation.
The concept of the Shekinah as Divine Wisdom and Holy Spirit ….transmutes all creation, including the apparent
insignificance and ordinariness of everyday life, into something to be loved, embraced, honoured and celebrated
because it is the epiphany or shining forth of the divine intelligence and love that has brought it into being and dwells hidden within it.
The elimination of the image of the Great Mother took away from us the concept that “the whole of nature was ensouled
with spirit and therefore sacred”. Through the millennia of Patriarchal religions we suffered the loss of our “age-old
sense of participation in a Sacred Order.”
The Shekinah, named as Divine Wisdom and Holy Spirit- divinity present and active in the world-
supplies the missing imagery of divine immanence which is absent from Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
And this mystical tradition brings together heaven and earth, the divine and the human,
in a coherent and seamless vision of their essential relationship.
How would the recovery of the Shekinah as the feminine aspect of the god-head,
as Mother, Beloved, Sister and Bride transform our image of God? of Nature? of ourselves?
Anne Baring states that “the Shekinah gives woman what she has lacked throughout the last two thousand years
in western civilization—a sacred image of the Divine Feminine that is reflected at the human level in herself.”
Yet in the ancient world Wisdom was always associated with the image of a Goddess: Inanna in Sumeria,
Isis and Ma’at in Egypt, Athena in Greece... Anne Baring celebrates the recovery of these ancient images
with the even greater richness of the Shekinah’s role in the web of Life:
The Bronze Age imagery of the Great Goddesses returns to life in the extraordinary beauty and power
of the descriptions of the Shekinah, and in the gender endings of nouns which describe the feminine dimension of the divine.
But the Divine Feminine is now defined as a limitless connecting web of life, as the invisible Soul of the Cosmos,
as the intermediary between the unknowable god-head and life in this dimension. The Shekinah brings together
heaven and earth, the invisible and visible dimensions of reality in a resplendent vision of their essential relationship and union.
Another aspect of this tradition preserves the image from the Bronze Age of the Sacred Marriage.
Rather than a Father God there is a Mother-Father who are “one in their eternal embrace, one in their ground,
one in their emanation, one in their ecstatic and continual act of creation through all the dimensions
they bring into being and sustain.”
Ann Baring comments: From the perspective of divine immanence, there is no essential separation
between spirit and nature or spirit and matter.
And in a burst of poetic praise, adds: No other cosmology offers the same breath-taking vision
in such exquisite poetic imagery of the union of male and female energies in the One that is both.
Not surprisingly, the kabbalists, in contemplating the mystery of this divine union, turned for inspiration to “The Song of Songs”.
THE BRIDE: Wine flowing straight to my Beloved,
as it runs on the lips of those who sleep.
I am my Beloved's
and his desire is for me.
Come my Beloved
let us go to the fields....
We will see if the vines are budding,
if their blossoms are opening,
if the pomegranate trees are in flower.
Then I shall give you
the gift of my love.
(excerpt from The Song of Songs 7: 9-13 Jerusalem Bible)
Communion Reflection for September 8, 2020
Entering the Rose Garden
Whatever their ways,
they are all in love with you,
Each comes, by a path, to the Rose Garden
For seven days in mid-August, I spent time in an ancient Rose Garden, an imaginal space engineered by ZOOM, offered by Ubiquity University, peopled by scholars and archaeologists of the soul, dancers, storytellers, musicians, poets and mystics whose great task is recovering and offering to those who hunger for it, the knowledge and awareness of the Divine Feminine. This on-line program, whose over one hundred participants joined in from countries across the planet, was a blessed side effect of COVID which made Ubiquity’s fourteen-year tradition of a summer program in the Chartres Cathedral of France impossible this year.
The program was called “Madonna Rising.” Its central image was the Mystical Rose, a title honouring the Sacred Feminine in ancient cultures, such as Egypt and Sumeria. Later, it was a title given to Mary, Mother of Jesus.
On Day One we are greeted from her home in California by Banafsheh Sayyad, who over the following days would lead us in sacred dance, inviting us to open our lives to the Divine Feminine Presence. Banafsheh introduced the theme of Madonna Rising by quoting a Prophecy from the Cherokee Nation:
“The bird of humanity has two great wings - a masculine wing and a feminine wing. The masculine wing has been fully extended for centuries, fully expressed, while the feminine wing in all of us has been truncated, not yet fully expressed - half extended. ?So the masculine wing in all of us has become over- muscular and over-developed and in fact violent and the bird of humanity has been flying in circles for hundreds and hundreds of years, held up only fully by the masculine wing that became over- muscular and violent. In the 21st century, however, something remarkable will happen. The feminine wing in all of us will fully extend and find its way to express and the masculine wing will relax in all of us and the bird of humanity will soar.”?
Banafsheh lifted a rose from her desk and it appeared to move off- screen to be received by Anne Baring, seated in her home in England.
In the first of her trilogy of presentations, Anne would begin to tell the tale of how the bird of humanity
lost the power of gracious flight in its feminine wing.
Author of Dream of the Cosmos (Archive Publishing, Dorset, England, 2013) ;The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image, 1992)
Anne delves for light in history, following paths not yet made, seeking the story that came before the story
in pursuit of clarity about so much that has been lost to us.
Was there a story that preceded the 6th c. BCE Creation Story in the Book of Genesis of the Hebrew Bible?
And if so, how was it lost? Here is what Anne’s research found:
I loved her more than health or beauty,
preferred her to the light,
since her radiance never sleeps.
(The Book of Wisdom, 7:10 Jerusalem Bible)
Solomon, to whom the Book of Wisdom is ascribed, built the First Temple in Jerusalem in the tenth century BCE.
In the time of the First Temple, Israel had an ancient, shamanic, visionary tradition. Divine Wisdom was worshipped in this First Temple
as the Goddess Asherah, the consort of Yahweh and the co-creator of the world with him.
In this tradition the Tree of life was associated with Wisdom, Queen of Heaven.
Anne then told us how all this changed:
In 621 BC, in the reign of King Josiah, a powerful group of priests called Deuteronomists took control of the Temple….
The Deuteronomists had the statue of the Goddess Asherah and the great Serpent, image of her power to regenerate life,
removed from the Temple and destroyed. Her Sacred Groves were cut down. All images of her were broken.
The ancient shamanic rituals of the High Priest which had honoured and communed with the Queen of Heaven as Divine Wisdom
and Holy Spirit were banished and replaced by new rituals based on obedience to Yahweh’s Law.
The vital communion with the inner dimensions of reality was lost; the making of images was forbidden.
As I listened to this, I felt something inside me twist in pain. More even than the destruction of her images,
the cutting down of the trees sacred to the Goddess wrenched my heart.
Anne spoke of the long-lasting effects of this rupture:
This is the crucially important time when I think it is possible to say that the whole foundation of Jewish and later Christian civilization
became unbalanced. The Deuteronomists ensured the Yahweh was the sole Creator God. The Feminine co-creator, the Goddess Asherah,
was eliminated. The Divine Feminine aspect of the god-head was banished from orthodox Judaism. The Deuteronomists went further:
they demoted the Queen of Heaven – Mother of All Living – into the human figure of Eve, bestowing this title upon her.
They created the Myth of the Fall in the Book of Genesis (2 & 3), with its message of sin, guilt and banishment from the Garden of Eden,
severing the Tree of Life from its ancient association with the Queen of Heaven.
Anne Baring suggests that the “heritage seeds’’ of the First Temple’s teaching were somehow preserved in the Jewish traditions of Kabbalism:
It seems highly significant that one of the most important images of Kabbalism is the Tree of Life, which is a clear
and wonderful concept describing the web of relationships which connect invisible spirit with the fabric of life in this world.
At the innermost level or dimension of reality is the unmanifest, unknowable Divine Ground; at the outermost the physical forms
we call nature, body and matter. Linking the two is the archetypal template of the Tree of Life—an inverted tree—whose
branches grow from its roots in the divine ground and extend through many invisible worlds or dimensions until they reach this one.
Anne describes this cosmology as one where
Every aspect of creation, both visible and invisible, is interconnected and interwoven with every other aspect.
All is one life, one cosmic symphony, one integrated whole. We participate, at this material level of creation,
in the divine life which informs all these myriad levels of reality. Our human lives are therefore inseparable from the inner life of the Cosmos.
The Kabbalistic tradition is “vitally important” Anne says, because it celebrates…the indissoluble relationship and union between
the feminine and masculine aspects of the god-head—a sacred union which
the three Patriarchal religions have ignored or deliberately rejected.
I will end this excerpt from Anne Baring’s first talk with a statement she makes that is both stark and striking in its clarity:
If we want to understand the deep roots of our present environmental and spiritual crisis, we can find them
in the loss of three important elements: the feminine image of spirit, the direct shamanic path of communion with spirit
through visionary and shamanic experience, and the sacred marriage of the masculine and feminine aspect of the God-head
and the Divine Ground. Each of these was an intrinsic aspect of the lost traditions and practices of the First Temple.
(to be continued)
Communion Reflection for September 1, 2020
Season of Lughnasadh
This evening, bathed in the light of the almost-full moon, we shall gather again in the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona.
We are not the same women who gathered there on June 30th nor were we then the same women we each had been
in the weeks before that. We have been living together a planetary experience unlike any other.
The global COVID pandemic has changed life for all of us, though in unique ways. Yet the question it raises is one we may each ponder:
WHO AM I REALLY?
Ten women in our Communion responded this past week to my request for a reflection on that question both personally and communally.
You will hear some of their personal responses in tonight’s Gathering Space.
In this first Reflection since June, I offer my thoughts on who and where we are as the Communion of Creative Fire.
We are now in the Season of Lughnasadh (August 1st to September 21st) , the Harvest time in the Celtic Calendar.
Lugh the "many-gifted One"
This festival honours Lugh the fiery god of the Children of Danu, known as the “many-gifted One”. At Lughnasadh we are invited
to think about who we are by noticing our gifts, what our lives are harvesting. Next week, in the Gathering Space we shall hold
a Ritual for Lughnasadh. Each of us will be invited to bring some symbol to represent our gift.
These will be placed on the altar in the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery.
Each will be invited to say something about the gift that best answers the question: WHO AM I REALLY?
(You have this week to prepare for the Ritual on September 8th)
I’ve chosen my symbol for next week’s ritual. It’s a rock, roughly heart – shaped, painted black with silver clusters
that might be stars fallen from the Milky Way. At its centre, like a fiery phoenix in flight, a flame burns.
Several years ago I purchased this rock for it spoke to me of our Communion of Creative Fire.
This symbol expresses who I am, someone engaged with each of you in seeking a spirituality for our time,
one that will light up the inner sky within us, flaming in our hearts, speaking of the most ancient images of our universe:
darkness and light and fire.
What is this story that we in the Communion have been living? The Festival of Lughnasadh, August 1st, is directly opposite
the Festival of Imbolc, Brigid's Feast, February 1st, in the Wheel of the Celtic Year.
It was on Brigid's Feast in 2013 that I sent out an email of invitation to forty women I knew, women whom I believed
had the wisdom, courage and creative spirit to engage with me in an exploration of uncharted spiritual territory.
There were no maps we might follow. No clear signs for the roads we would explore. And no one among us knew where the journey would end.
Nor has it yet ended. At times, it feels as though we have only just begun.
As happens on important journeys, where the only clarity is the desire of our own hearts for a treasure in the realm of spirit,
some of those who set out with us in 2013 experienced a lure leading them to follow a different spiritual path.
For others, new demands or losses in their personal lives made it difficult or impossible, at least for a time,
for them to continue with us. Other women were drawn to walk with us as the journey continued
so that somehow the number of our company has remained fairly constant at around thirty.
Jean Houston, whose inspiration gave birth to the Communion, offered us a wonderful gift in writing our first Reflection,
"Communing with the Creative Fire of the Universe". (You will find it on our website archived under "Jean Houston.")
This is something for us to read and re-read, especially when we are travelling in misty valleys,
in danger of losing sight of our purpose, in need of fanning the flames of our original desire.
Looking through the other titles in the Archives can remind us of the wisdom we have sought from the Mystics,
especially our godmothers: Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, and Brigid of Ireland.
Julian of Norwich Icon by Anna Dimascio
We explored the writings of Teilhard de Chardin, which were foundational for Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme.
Their development of the "Powers of the Universe" expanded our awareness of what we as humans,
as well as other forms of life who share our planet, hold within us.
We studied the Medieval Women Mystics, found kindred spirits among the Beguines,
explored the writings and poetry of mystics of other faith traditions, including the Sufis (Hafiz, Rumi, Rabia) and Buddhist writings.
We found inspiration in Celtic Spirituality, in the great mythologies of the Egyptians and the Greeks,
in ancient stories of many cultures and in the traditions of the Indigenous peoples of many times and places.
In the writings of Rabbi Rami Shapiro we met the Sacred Feminine Presence of Chochma in the Hebrew Scriptures,
the one known by the name of Sophia in other traditions. Later we would learn that Teilhard honoured a Sacred Feminine Presence
in the Universe whom we identify as Sophia. Merton's poem "Hagia Sophia" was inspired by the writings of Russian Christians…
We looked at Mary Magdalene through the lens of her title "Apostle to the Apostles".
Mary Magdalene by Sieger Koder
We began to explore The Gospel of Mary from the second century, in the fragments found in an antiquities market in Cairo in 1896,
only becoming available to English scholars in the 1970's… (As a preview of coming attractions, I want to let you know
I have been studying a recently published book by a woman descended from the Cathars of SouthWestern France
which may be a translation from the Greek of the complete Gospel of Mary Magdalene,
as well as the primary source for the later Gospel of John.)
Where have we been going in these seven and a half years together?
Would the tracks we have left behind allow others to follow?
Have we made any progress so that we might gaze around and say "look how far we’ve come"?
I do not think so. It seems to me that we have been walking a spiral, circling round and round even as we travel
imperceptibly deeper and deeper still.
And this is a very good thing. Because it is the journey that matters,
and the measure of our progress is within each of us and among us.
Powers of the Universe: Part Ten
All the powers of the universe are one, seamlessly involved with one another,
present everywhere in the universe, coursing through us, trying to bring forth Radiance.
In his concluding talk in the DVD series, “The Powers of the Universe” Brian Swimme speaks about Radiance.
The most powerful presence of Radiance is the sun. In its core, the sun creates helium out of compressed hydrogen, releasing light. The process of fusion generates photons. Light emanates in waves which collapse into photon particles, creating light. The sun is also giving off messenger particles called gravitons that mediate the gravitational interaction by penetrating the earth, pulling the earth to the sun.
We see the light, and feel the gravitational pull.
The moon also has Radiance, but not from creating light through fusion as the sun does. The photons that come from the moon are created by the sun’s activity on the moon. The moon releases the light thus created, also bathing us with gravitons, to which the earth responds, as in the tides of the seas.
It is an ongoing activity of the universe to radiate. Even in the depths of the earth, everything radiates LIGHT.
Radiance is the primary language of the universe.
We are frozen light… Brian Swimme says that every being we meet holds fourteen billion years of radiance.
The twentieth century mystic Thomas Merton saw with clarity the gap between this stunning reality and our capacity to see it,
and wondered how we might tell people that they are walking around shining like the sun!
Yet, by a willingness to see deeply, we can develop a subtle spirit that responds to the depths of spirit in another,
a container that responds to the beauty of the other. The archetypal example of this kind of depth perception, Swimme says,
is a mother beholding her child. What is a mother seeing in the eyes of her child? This is the depth perception of beauty.
When we look into the eyes of another do we see colour and shape only as in a surface, machine-like mentality
or do we see flowing, radiating out of the eyes, the essence, the fullness of the person, his or her depth?
Light is a flow of emotions: light as joy, sadness, pouring out from another. Think what can happen with one glance
where we fall in love so deeply that the rest of our life is changed: we contain the Radiance that is streaming out of another.
When, on a sleepless night, Swimme suggests, we go outdoors and see the stars, difficulties melt away
and we are smothered with deep peace. Something glorious is streaming into us, something so deeply felt
that we find peace in our at-homeness in the universe. When we look down and see fireflies (flashing to interest their mates)
we realize we are participating in an amazingly sacred event.
We are drawn into the depth of things and when we go there we find the future direction of the universe.
The earth makes rubies and sapphires out of elements that come together, that explode and sparkle with Radiance,
as though the universe is trying to tell us something about our aliveness in the realm of possibility!
We sit by the ocean, drawn into what is really real, something that is attempting to establish a deep bond with us.
The magnificence of ocean/sand/sky wants to sparkle forth like a sapphire.
We feel what reverberates out, Swimme says, as if completing the beauty that’s there.
We enter into relationship with the Radiance of the universe through resonance and that is the primary form of prayer.
Reverberation is the primary sacrament. We become the radiance that is flooding the world. If the resonance is deep enough,
it fills our being so that we reverberate with the being of the other. The Radiance becomes the being. We are resonant with another
when we begin to reverberate with the one we see. We are then in a non-dual relationship with another.
There is great joy in developing this level of interaction with life.
The mystics intuited radiance long before the physicists described it. Teilhard de Chardin, the French Jesuit priest-paleontologist
who died in 1955, wrote: “Throughout my whole life during every moment I have lived, the world has gradually
been taking on light and fire for me, until it has come to envelop me in one mass of luminosity, glowing from within...
The purple flash of matter fading imperceptibly into the gold of spirit, to be lost finally in the incandescence of a personal universe...
This is what I have learnt from my contact with the earth - the diaphany of the divine at the heart of a glowing universe,
the divine radiating from the depth of matter a-flame”. (The Divine Milieu)
"the Divine radiating from the depth of matter aflame"
Hildegard of Bingen, the astonishing 12th c. abbess and genius, wrote: “From my infancy until now, in the 70th year of my age,
my soul has always beheld this Light, and in it my soul soars to the summit of the firmament and into a different air....
The brightness which I see is not limited by space and is more brilliant than the radiance around the sun ....
I cannot measure its height, length, breadth. Its name, which has been given me, is “Shade of the Living Light”....
Within that brightness I sometimes see another light, for which the name “Lux Vivens” (Living Light) has been given me.
When and how I see this, I cannot tell; but sometimes when I see it, all sadness and pain is lifted from me,
and I seem a simple girl again, and an old woman no more!”
The Powers of the Universe: Part Nine Inter-Relatedness
One summer morning while I was living in my hermitage in the woods beside the Bonnechere River, I sat outdoors, holding a mug of coffee, enjoying a warm breeze. It must have been a Tuesday because I was preparing to write on Inter-relatedness for our Communion of Creative Fire.
At once, a dozen other tasks presented themselves, each one more appealing than writing. I washed a woven place-mat, hung it outdoors to dry, answered emails, read an old poetry journal, and finally settled on something truly urgent: picking crab–apples from a tree at the top of my lane.
I had noticed the tree the day before, its two large branches split near the trunk, their massive burden of crab-apples hovering just above the ground. I thought the tree might have been struck by lightning or pummelled by winds in a recent storm.
I began to fill a large bin with crab-apples, so eager to be picked that they nearly leapt from their branches. I worked quickly, mindlessly, concerned only that these small apples should be “used” before they fell to the earth to rot.
After nearly an hour of moving heavy branches that hung all askew, picking as many apples as I could reach, I decided I could do no more. I was hot, sticky, and being slowly devoured by a local chapter of mosquitoes who had found me out. Then, I happened to look up at the tree.
Something shifted in me. I was aware of a presence, a dim dark knowing, that moved my heart. Above me, the two split branches hung like almost-severed arms, and above them there was no great trunk. This was it. The tree was hopelessly broken, and would not bear again. Somehow I knew that it hadn’t been lightning or fierce winds but the sheer weight of this huge crop of apples that had broken her branches. This feast of fruit she offered as her dying gift.
Did I acknowledge that? Offer my thanks? I hope so, but it was a brief act. I was eager to get out of the sun, away from the mosquitoes, into my swimsuit.
Minutes later, I was walking through the woods to where a stairway of carefully-placed flat rocks led down into the river. Embraced by the slowly moving water, my companion of seven years, I felt at first only the bliss of coolness, buoyancy.
The Bonnechere River
But gradually there came again the dim knowing that I had experienced beside the tree. Again I sensed a presence, a something, a someone, cooling me, embracing me, welcoming me into its life…
It was late afternoon when I at last opened my notes on the Powers of the Universe, garnered from Brian Swimme’s DVD series and Jean Houston’s teachings on the way these powers impact our lives.
Jean had spoken of White Buffalo Calf Woman who taught her people that all things are inter-related, so they must reverence all of life. This, Jean said, is what the power of Inter-relatedness is about: a vision of caring with a sense of the whole; we need an overarching vision that is so simple and alluring that we can see what can be, not from many different perspectives (science, art, religion, etc.) but from an all-inclusive vision. Jean sees the Power of Inter-Relatedness as an incredible invitation from the cosmos to create deep caring.
Inter-relatedness or Care has been at work in the Universe for 13.8 billion years, says Brian Swimme. Without it, the Universe would fall apart.
Parental care emerged as a value in the Universe because it made survival more possible with the mother and father fish caring for their young. As reptiles evolved, Swimme speculates that either they discovered caring, or perhaps it evolved along with them. Reptiles watch over their young and do not eat them (as do some fish). The amazing power of care deepens with the arrival of mammals, whose care continues sometimes for a lifetime. This, says Swimme, is the Universe showing what it values, enabling mammals to spread out.
In some species of mammals, the female selects among her suitors the male who offers the best chance of having her offspring survive. The female is behaving in a way that will affect the next generation. Through her, the Universe is working to extend care. An intensive study of baboons led researchers to find that when a female chooses a sexual partner one of the qualities she seeks is tenderness. Thus life seeks to deepen and extend care.
Mother Loon nestles babies on her back
Care has to be evoked. A mother sea-lion establishes relationship with her pup by licking, nuzzling, thus evoking her own motherhood. It is the same for us humans, says Swimme. We need to find ways to activate these deep cosmological powers so that we can interact with the universe. This requires imagination. The power of care is evoked out of the plasma of the early universe. How do we enter into that process of evoking care? Just becoming aware is to participate.
How we position ourselves within our relationships with all of life is crucial, and is an act of imagination. To position ourselves in order to USE life leads to the extinction of countless species. Even 100 million years of parental care was not enough to save many species of fish from extinction. The shaping of our imagination by economic, educational and manufacturing systems that see use as the primary mode or orientation towards life on the planet, also views children in schools as “products” to be shaped, (and a tree’s bounty of crab-apples as something to be “used”.) What would be another way?
Swimme notes the amazing capacity of humans to care, a power that is coded in our DNA, where life has extended its care through us. But we also have through the power of language and symbol, through our conscious self-awareness, the capacity for empathy. We can learn to experience care for another species, even as we can imaginatively occupy another place, and extend our care to other cultures. With deepening compassion we move outside of our own boxed–in perspective.
Seeing that cosmological care is built in from the very beginning of the universe, some people today speak of the Great Mother or Mother Earth. This, says Swimme, is the cosmological power of care employing a powerful image or symbol to reflect upon itself through the human.
On a day when I tried to avoid writing of Inter-Relatedness, I was given the gift of experiencing this power directly in the self-giving bounty of a crab-apple tree, in the welcoming, cooling embrace of a gently-flowing river. Great Mother felt very close, inviting me, in Jean Houston’s words, into “a vision of caring with a sense of the whole”.